Introducing Team Work

Call it “teamwork.”

A group is two or more people with common interests and continuing interaction, while a team is group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common mission, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenchach & Smith, 1993).  Discussing the distinction and students’ previous experiences with teams is a good way to start.

After teams are formed, consider providing students a checklist of statements that distinguish them as a team, rather than a group.

  • We all show equal commitment to our objective
  • We all take part in deciding how work should be allocated.
  • We are committed to helping each other learn
  • We acknowledge good contributions from team members.
  • We handle disagreements and conflicts constructively within the team.
  • We are able to give constructive criticism to one another and to accept it ourselves.
  • We all turn up to meetings and stay to the end.
  • We are good at making sure that everyone knows what’s going on.
  • When one of us is under pressure, others offer to help.
  • We trust each other.
  • We remain united even when we disagree.
  • We support each other to outsiders.
  • We feel comfortable and relaxed with one another.
Levin, P., and Kent, I. (20010. Draft manual on teamwork tutoring: 28 questions and answers for academics on teamwork in universities.

R. Katzenbach and D.K. Smith, “The Discipline of Teams,” Harvard Business Review 71 (1993): 111-120.


Explain the purpose and advantages of teamwork.

Below are examples from Dave Mattson, President and CEO of Sandler Training. 


  • Fosters Creativity and Learning: Creativity thrives when people work together on a team.  Brainstorming ideas as a team prevents stale viewpoints that often come out of working solo.


  • Blends Complementary Strengths: Working together lets us build on the talents of our teammates. While one person’s strength may be creative thinking, another might shine in organization and planning.  Often a team works well together because team members rely on each other to bring individual talents to the table.


  • Builds Trust: Relying on other people builds trust, and teamwork establishes strong relationships.  Despite occasional disagreements, an effective team enjoys working together and shares a strong bond.  When you put your trust in a teammate, you are establishing the foundation of a relationship that can endure minor conflicts.


  • Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills: Conflicts inevitably happen when we put together a team of unique people.  People come from varied backgrounds and have different work styles and habits.  While these unique viewpoints create the most successful work, they can also generate resentment that quickly turns into conflict.  When conflict arises in teamwork situations, we are forced to resolve the conflicts ourselves instead of turning to a higher authority.  Learning conflict resolution firsthand is a skill that students can use to become effective professionals down the road.


  • Promotes a Wider Sense of Ownership: Team projects encourage people to feel proud of their contributions.  Tackling obstacles and creating notable work together makes team members feel fulfilled.


  • Encourages Healthy Risk-Taking: A person working on a project alone will probably not want to stick his/her neck out for an off-the-wall idea. Working as a team allows team members to take more risks.  Once a team succeeds together, their brainstorming sessions can produce revolutionary ideas without hesitation.  In many cases, the riskiest idea turns out to be the best idea.  Teamwork allows people the freedom to think outside the box.

Explain connection to employability.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) ran a survey of 260 employers where it asked hiring managers what skills they plan to prioritize when they recruit from the class of 2015 at colleges and graduate schools. Ability to work in a team was listed first.  Beyond national surveys across all industries, you can provide students with a discipline-specific context for the development of team skills.  Consider inviting a guest speaker from your industry to outline how they use teams in the workplace.  You might also ask students in the class who work part-time or full-time to share their experience with teamwork.